It’s easy to say that St. Louis Cardinals manager Mike Matheny’s usage of his bullpen was the main reason that the his team lost in just five games to the San Francisco Giants in the National League Championship Series.
In many ways, it’s a fair argument – Matheny made several questionable decisions when it came to his bullpen, and he saw the immediate results when his relievers either lost the lead or lost the game in four of the five games against the Giants. Matheny’s misuse of his bullpen was capped off by the series-winning three-run home run that Travis Ishikawa launched into the right field stands off of Michael Wacha, who entered the ninth inning of the a must-win game for the Cardinals having not pitched in over three weeks. Standing in the Cardinal bullpen just beyond first base ready to go were lefty Randy Choate (who could have faced lefties Ishikawa and shortstop Brandon Crawford) as well as righty Seth Maness (whose uncanny ability to induce double plays has been invaluable to the Cardinals the last two years). Instead, Matheny chose to stick with Wacha, who ultimately gave up the series-clinching home run.
Throw in a couple of other poor choices – leaving Choate in after walking Crawford in the tenth inning of Game 3, and Matheny’s quick hook of both Maness and All-Star Pat Neshek, and there’s no doubt that the bullpen played a large part of the untimely demise of the Cards’ World Series hopes.
But don’t pin this all on Matheny. The Cardinals offense failed to put their team in a position to win without unnecessary drama from the Matheny and the bullpen.
I cannot wait for tonight. This World Series is going to be fantastic on so many levels. I originally picked Tigers over Dodgers when the playoffs started, but I have no problem with this outcome. I just hope the games are as good as advertised.
With Game 1 starting tonight, I thought I would take a look at some of the storylines of the 2013 World Series.
1. Will Yadier Molina’s bat show up?
The Cardinals catcher had an extraordinary slashline in the regular season of .319/.359/.477 (including just 55 K’s in 136 games), but his offense was noticeably absent against the Dodgers in the NLCS. Molina hit .227/.320/.227, with 4 K’s, and 2 huge double plays that killed Cardinals rallies in the team’s Game 5 loss. The Cards will need Yadi’s bat to heat up in the middle of the lineup and put the pressure on Boston’s pitching staff. Molina is a great two-strike hitter, and knows how to push the ball to the opposite field, and showing off those skills is paramount to the Cardinals’ success in the World Series.
For the record, I’m not at all worried about his ability to call a game behind the plate or gun down opposing base stealers. He’ll be fine there–there’s a reason Michael Wacha got out of that bases loaded-one out jam in Game 2.
2. Speaking of Wacha, how will the Cardinals’ rookie pitchers react to the largest stage in baseball?
So far, so good in the 2013 playoffs. But this isn’t just any series, it’s the World Series. Entering the playoffs, I had the Cardinals losing to the Dodgers in the NLCS, in large part due to the youth of their staff. I also did not have much confidence in starting Wacha over 15-game-winner Shelby Miller in the NLDS. Well, I’ve been incredibly wrong so far. However, it’s still concerning to me that the Cardinals depend so much on rookie arms, especially considering the dangerous and experienced lineup that Boston has.
Boston victimized the Tigers bullpen for two grand slams in six games, and while the probability of that happening again is extremely small, the chance of one of the Cards’ rookie pitchers making a mistake is legitimate.
3. Can the Red Sox offense make an impact in the first 5 innings?
Maybe it was just the Tigers pitching that was overpowering, but for the first three games of the ALCS, the Red Sox lineup did just about nothing against the Tigers’ starters outside of a Mike Napoli homer off of Justin Verlander. In fact, the Red Sox offense didn’t score a run in the first 5 innings of the first four games of the ALCS! Boston has two games with the DH until they have to sacrifice either Mike Napoli or David Ortiz, so they need to score early, establish leads, and develop their offense by the time the series heads back to St. Louis if they want to have a shot at winning it all.
4. Can anyone stop Kohi Uehara?
This guy is as money as it gets coming out of a bullpen. According to Bleacher Report and Baseball-Reference.com, Uehara has allowed just two earned runs and two walks since JULY–and of course he’s kept it going throughout the playoffs. That confidence has spread throughout the Sox bullpen, and has made the unit one of the most fearsome in recent playoff history. If Boston can get a lead late into the game, consider it pretty much done.
5. Will Allen Craig be a factor?
The Cardinals made it to the World Series without a guy who hit .454 this season with runners in scoring position. If he can do anything like that, the Cardinals will have a huge boost in their lineup. The big question, though, is if he can even hit at a respectable clip after sitting out the last 6+ weeks. If Craig cannot get his timing back relatively quickly, the Cards are looking at a huge hole sitting in the middle of their lineup.
Prediction: Call it a homer pick, but I’ll take the Cardinals in seven games. If the Cardinals can win one in Fenway before going home to a weakened Boston lineup without the DH, they will have a significant advantage. Plus, Carlos Beltran has waited his entire career to play in the World Series, let’s get him a ring.
Either way, should be a terrific series, and I am so excited to watch (if necessary) seven amazing baseball games.